13 July 2018




This week’s #FlashbackFriday is turning into #FridaFriday, to honour one of my favourite historical ladies, Frida Kahlo. Given last Friday, July 6th was Kahlo’s birthday, and today marks the 64th anniversary of her death, the timing coincides well for #FridaFriday. Frida's image is continually replicated in art and pop culture. The colourful outfits, elaborately braided hair, and unibrow matched together on t-shirts, earrings, in street art, as costumes and as fashion-inspiration, are familiar tributes to her recognizable imagery. However, despite her repetitive cultural image, the details of her life and the narratives weaved into her art are often overlooked. This #FlashbackFriday hopes to illustrate a bit more about this revolutionary lady.

Born in Coyoacán (Mexico City) on July 6th, 1907 as Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón, Frida grew up with her father, Guillermo (Wilhelm), her mother, Matilde, and her three sisters, Matilde, Adriana, and Cristina. Frida also had two elder, half-sisters from her father’s first marriage. Due to financial difficulties and ongoing health issues, Frida’s early life was turbulent. Throughout those years, both her parents had health problems that disrupted the steadiness of their life. At the age of six, Frida was diagnosed with polio, the result of which would be the imbalance in her legs, delayed education, and bullying by peers.

Yet, despite these trails, Frida was an active, curious and energetic girl, and at times, rebellious. As part of her polio recovery, she became physically active, despite the unusualness for girls to be playing sports. She enjoyed aiding her father with his photography, and was known to carry a tense relationship with her devout mother as she skipped out on her catechism. She excelled at school, and intended to study medicine. Throughout her teens, she became politically conscious and active. Meanwhile, she also engaged herself in drawing, poetry, and worked for a family friend, as an engraver’s apprentice.

In September of 1925, Frida and her long-time boyfriend, Alejandro Gómez Arias, were in a severe bus accident, resulting in Frida being bedridden for several months. The injuries would prove to have life-altering consequences, as three of her spinal discs were dislocated, and numerous bones had been fractured. The pain, and the time and money spent in recovery, would limit her educational pursuits and further distressed the struggle of the Kahlo Calderón family. Even with her recovery, the impact of her injuries would linger onward throughout her life.

While Frida was still recovering, she quickly resumed working, concerned for her family. It would be in this new period, her relationship with Diego Rivera would blossom (they had previously met on brief occasions in her teens). A seemingly unlikely couple, Rivera reportedly admired and respected Kahlo’s opinion; Kahlo was intently interested in Rivera’s work and politics. They married in 1929, divorced in 1939 and remarried again a year later. Their relationship was rocky and emotionally intense, as Rivera’s infamous womanizing continued, Kahlo suffered from multiple miscarriages and the couple moved throughout the United States.

Kahlo also engaged in her own extramarital affairs (including purported affairs with Georgia O’Keefe and later, Leon Trotsky), throughout both marriages, and continued to remain politically active in spite of her health problems. Regardless of her turbulent life, Frida seemed inexhaustible in her work, politics and personal life, which were often entangled.

Frida was an active member of the Communist Party, and her politics, like her relationships, were illustrated throughout her paintings. Notably, her and Rivera, hosted Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia, while they sought asylum. Her political consciousness continued up until her death, where she participated in a political march only a couple weeks before her death, despite her poor health.

The latter years of her life were marked with increasingly persistent health complications, which contributed to bouts of depression and anxiety. In 1953, her right leg was amputated due to infection, commencing a downward period in her mental well-being before her death on July 13th of 1954.

Frida’s legacy is vibrant with her dedication to Mexico, her experimentation in personal style, both in fashion and in art, her prolific letter writing, her integration of ex-votos, portraiture and still life, political activism and of course, her passionate love.

Frida's life has been written about extensively. Her home in Mexico City, known as the Blue House was made into a museum and is still open today for guests to visit.

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